Monday, August 11, 2014


Last week the constitutional court annulled the Anti-Homosexuality Act on the grounds that when it was passed the house did not have enough MPs seating to make it law. For a bill to pass into law at least one third of the voting members of parliament have to vote on it.

And then within days the constitutional court ruled against the continued tenure of Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki beyond the statutory 70 year old age limit, despite the extension granted by President Yoweri Museveni last year.

In the heat of the moment it is easy for the supporters of contrary positions to be displeased with the two court rulings. 

The opposition in both these cases maintained a deafening silence, not criticising the courts for their lack of impartiality as they have done in the past.

If we describe a democracy as a rule based society, with laws made by the legislature, operatlionalised by the executive and interpreted by the courts, the events of the last fortnight are good for democracy.

The ideal is to have a country where institutions and not individuals, are the guarantors of our freedoms, long term stability and progress.

Of course first you have to have the institutions, then you have to make sure they work.
It is all very nice to write these institutions into law and even man them with competent officials, but in order for them to grow and take their place at the center of events, this institutions have to be exercised.

We might have our misgivings about this or that institution but we give them no chance to improve and serve us if we do not put them to the test.

Take for instance, someone breaks into your house and steals a few things. Because you have your doubts about the capacity of your local police post you neglect to report the incident. When they are drawing up the budget for the police post next year they will look at the incidents of the past year as an indicator of how much to commit to your local police post. Invariably because your incident and several others were not communicated police HQ will decide that the one sleepy constable and a bench for desk will continue to be adequate.

By choosing not to deal with the police because you doubt their competence a self-fulfilling prophecy is set into motion.

The building of a democracy is not something that other people do, it’s something we all help with in whatever way we can. 

In an attempt to win political points people may argue that the government should know better and not put society in a place where it has to challenge it. But governments are political animals, they will get away with whatever they can depending on the vigilance of the people.

Of course there is a danger that government business can be paralysed and swift action bogged down in red tape, but that is the price we should be prepared to pay to live in a democracy.

Stronger institutions will guard against the excesses of political expedience, the arbitrariness of dictators and even save our more benevolent leaders from themselves, after all, they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

And finally by testing our institutions and allowing them to grow into their roles we can expect a level of predictability about our environment and guarantee that in the future we will have recourse to these institutions even if we are no longer in power or aligned with the powers of the day.

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